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Chris Grayling lays into the Government for storing the DNA of innocent people on its national database

Picture 4 Yesterday saw the Second Reading of the Government Crime and Security Bill in the Commons. The Conservatives voted against the Bill, with Chris Grayling citing the Government's intention to continue retaining the DNA of innocent people as a "point of principle" for opposing it:

"Unless the Home Secretary finally accepts that his proposals on the DNA database are opposed across the House and unless he accepts that things will have to be different, we cannot support what he is doing...

"Those are measures that we would happily see passed into law, but none of them is of sufficient significance to get us to back away from the key point of principle that divides us from the Government—the DNA database. The current system is all wrong. I am seldom a fan of the European Court, but on this matter it has clearly got things right. We have, for years, been storing the DNA of innocent people on our national DNA database. People who go into a police station voluntarily to help with an inquiry, like my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Greg Hands), find themselves on the list. People who are briefly questioned in a police station about a crime that they did not commit find themselves giving DNA to be stored for the future. People who are arrested on one of those occasions when the police hugely overreact, as in the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), find their DNA being taken, and few succeed, as he did, in having their DNA removed.

"Indeed, data that we recently obtained revealed that innocent people trying to have their DNA removed from the database face a postcode lottery... Some people find it very difficult to get their DNA removed from the database although, interestingly, some convicted offenders, such as the Leader of the House (Harriet Harman), seem to get away without having their DNA taken at all.

"The Government have been completely cavalier with the traditional rights and liberties of this country and, on the DNA database, they have got things plain wrong. This is not just about what is right and wrong for civil liberties. The DNA database has grown rapidly in recent years. Nearly 250,000 subject profiles were loaded on to the database in 1998–99, but that figure has now more than doubled. By October 2009, there were 5.9 million individuals’ DNA samples on the database, making it the largest in the world per head of population. One would have expected the number of detections and convictions using DNA to have increased at the same time, but the opposite has been the case, both in overall terms and proportionately. As the number of DNA records has increased, the number of detections has fallen from a peak of 41,148 in 2006–07 to 31,915 in 2008–09—a drop of 22 per cent. There is no evidence that building a bigger and bigger database will help to solve more and more crimes.

"Grudgingly, the Government have accepted over the past few months that they cannot win the argument on DNA. After the European Court ruling that a system that keeps innocent people’s DNA indefinitely is illegal, Ministers first proposed to keep records for up to 12 years. When that was resisted, they introduced their current proposals for a six-year limit. More importantly, however, they still want to keep a DNA record of everyone arrested by the police, regardless of whether they are charged or convicted, and regardless of the severity of the offence under investigation. We will not accept that.

"We have argued consistently for the approach that is in use in Scotland, under which DNA from people who are neither charged nor convicted for minor offences is not retained. The only exceptions arise when the offences are of a serious sexual or violent nature, in which case records may be kept for up to three years, and for a further two years with the agreement of the Scottish equivalent of a magistrate. Such a system might provide the independence of judgment that my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) wants.

"We think that that system strikes the right balance, so a Conservative Government would adopt the Scottish system for England and Wales. We will not accept the measures set out by the Government in the Bill, which are illiberal, inconsistent with the values of our judicial system and our nation, and opposed by the majority of the public."

Jonathan Isaby


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